[In keeping with using this blog as a sketchbook, this is the beginning of a piece I started a few summers ago and want to work on some more. But for now, in its sketch form: The Foot Dentist. ]
“Are you ‘Doing the Intensive?'” is a question you’ll hear a lot during the Summer Meditation Intensive at City Center and, while I’m not officially signed up for what is called The Intensive, I appreciate how having it going on in the building is a reminder to pay attention to whatever it is that one is doing.
My feeling is that I am always doing The Intensive, but to live in a building where people have actually signed up for something officially called The Intensive, is to, by default, become part of a group who are figured to be leading mild lives in which we, for example, speak at any time of the day, and do things like eat breakfast at small round sunny tables rather than taking our meals formally in the zendo. In this way, while many others here at City Center have kept their eyes cast at 45º and maintained functional silence, for the last three mornings, I’ve been having breakfast in the small kitchen listening to stories from my friend Leilani about her former job as a receptionist at a BD/SM dungeon.
In Leilani’s job, she took appointments for clients and sometimes had to step in as a sub if someone couldn’t make it to work. This might mean running around the yard after a man who wanted to be stalked by a goldfish. Or neatening up the Cells after a session. There are practical matters to consider: if someone wants to “drench a girl’s hair in honey,” they have to pay not only for the session where the hair will be dredged in the honey, but also the time it will take for her to wash it out of her hair, and for the room to be cleaned.
Some requests are simply not viable. It was her job to screen them. I appreciated the combination of sang froid and bright cheeriness in her delivery, the equanimity with which she sustained all these requests. Whatever their predilection, Leilani held their request with a sense of fairness and an eye toward a broader well-being than might be transacted within the session requested, seeing in these customers’ requests, moments of vulnerability to which she could skillfully attend. To Bob The Spanker, she sometimes refused appointments if she felt he was losing sight of his own sense of proportion, or when she could see that the girls were taking advantage of his seemingly infinite inclination for this particular form of ritual rebuke. If Leilani felt he was digging too deep into the pockets of his postal uniform shorts to pay for the session, she would refuse the appointment.
The foot dentist brought his own tray of dental tools and his whole wish was to perform dentistry on women’s feet, noticing, as I’d never considered until now, that indeed, toes, in their rowed arrangement, bear some similarity to teeth. So he would carry out all the gestures of dentistry. Nothing invasive, I’m guessing. No actual drilling, I can only hope. But flossing, brushing, scaling? Polishing? And all on the toes instead of the teeth. Actually, a fine jet of water between the toes sounds kind of nice. This person was an actual dentist.
As I listened to her accounts, I felt my mind stretch to include the particular form this person’s preoccupations had taken. There are so many things it has never occurred to me to want and this is a helpful category of things to remember. Along with the things I don’t want that I don’t have.
Gratitude for what we have is perhaps the easiest form to drum up, even that takes clear attention. But to remember to be grateful for all the things we are pretty sure we wouldn’t want that we don’t have– a 2-hour commute from Fredericksburg to Wash., D.C. every day— is a good exercise now and then.
But what about what I do want? Maybe I could pay someone to either lie on the couch while I do my work and just be there, or to work on a project of their own at an adjoining table. That is my most recurring fantasy, but even that feels weirdly unattainable. I suppose I could pay someone to do this, but it doesn’t seem very specialized. Also, I don’t even have a couch. But this person has developed a liking for ministering in the manner of a dentist to a woman’s toes. This seems best met by someone with some training. Leilani informed me that it is part of the dungeon’s code that “only Dom’s are allowed to take the clients who want to perform any kind of worship of the feet.”
Later that morning, I had such a sense of tenderness for the foot dentist; assembling the tray of tools, making the appointment, to actually carry out those fleeting images takes some industry. I think of all the enterprises that flash through my mind and I never quite manage to make them manifest, and in some way, I had to admire his follow-through.
Sometimes it seems that desire is a mathematician and just figures out every possible permutation of something to want and along the grid of possible human circumstances it will be someone’s lot to want some subset of that larger set. And someone wakes up in Kips Bay and says, Shit, looks like i’m going to have to be the one who wants to perform dentistry on women’s feet.